February 11, 2013
Feinstein has proposed “legislation to ensure that drone strikes are carried out in a manner consistent with our values, and the proposal to create an analogue of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review the conduct of such strikes,” in other words a secret tribunal that will hand down kill orders for Americans the government believes are “suspected militants.”
Maine independent Senator Angus King imagined a scenario where Obama’s imperial courtiers would go behind the closed doors of a drone court and “in a confidential and top-secret way, make the case that this American citizen is an enemy combatant, and at least that would be … some check on the activities of the executive.”
The Constitution spells out the right to trial by jury numerous times – in the Sixth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, the Seventh Amendment and in the original Constitution in Article 3, Section 2. English common law and the Magna Carta of 1215 (Article 39) did away with trials by ordeal and by the 1600s the idea that juries served as a protection against the unrestrained power of kings was universally accepted. All 13 of the original states included in their constitutions the Right to Trial by Jury clauses. The Virginia Bill of Rights of 1788 held “ancient trial by jury” to be “one of the greatest securities to the rights of the people.”
“I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to Thomas Paine. “By a declaration of rights, I mean one which shall stipulate freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of commerce against monopolies, trial by juries in all cases, no suspensions of the habeas corpus,” he told Alexander Donald in 1788. He wrote to James Madison the previous year that “trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land and not by the law of nations.”
The wisdom of Jefferson, Madison, and the founders is now dead – apparently irrevocably. On Friday, Senator King got the ball rolling when he sent a letter to Feinstein and Republican intelligence committee vice-chairman Saxby Chambliss asking that the Constitution be ignored and they work with him on legislation to create a secret and unanswerable court which could provide “judicial review” of proposals to target drone attacks against citizens of the United States.
Barry’s handlers consider the idea of a secret court issuing kill orders of Americans as a trade-off after Democrats and Republicans on the Senate and House Judiciary committees sent him letters requesting that their respective committees be given access to Justice Department documents justifying drone strikes. The administration tried to placate critics by allowing hand-picked members of congressional intelligence committees to examine documents the night before Brennan went before a confirmation hearing as Barry’s pick to lord over the CIA.
Reuters reported that the ACLU and civil libertarians “would … likely have problems with” the idea that the government can issue death warrants in secret. Geoffrey Robertson, a prominent British human rights lawyer, denounced the horrific concept of “execution without trial” and “international killing (which) … violates the right to life.”
In Congress, however, the concept of trial by jury, held sacred by our forefathers, is little more than a momentary bargaining chip to be traded in as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights continue to be trashed and more than 800 years of common law is systematically dismantled in deference to a forever war against a manufactured al-Qaeda continues.